Richard Robinson (d. 1648) was one of the leading boy actresses of the King’s Men from c. 1610-16. From surviving cast lists, we know that he appeared in Beaumont and Fletcher’s tragedies Bonduca and Catiline (c.1611 and 1613) and that he played the Lady in Middleton’s Second Maiden’s Tragedy in 1611; he seems to have specialized in the roles of noble, virtuous, and often defiant tragic heroines. Dr. Barker’s paper proposes Robinson as a likely candidate for the first Aspatia in Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy, and asks what it might mean for our understanding of this cross-dressing, doomed heroine to imagine him in the part. What does a sword fight look like when one combatant is played by a boy who played very womanly women? How might Robinson’s penchant for tragic ultra-femininity have shaped the playing of Aspatia’s male disguise, her dueling, and her death?
“She speaks poniards, and every word stabs,” says Benedick of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing(2.1.226-7). Wit-battles like theirs required a style of acting identified with the volatile Lovers of the commedia dell’arte. The Innamoratatype, who specialized in sdegno(disdain) and putdowns alla stoccata(like a rapier) usually dominated males in these “amorous debates” (contrasti amorosi). For the star diva, sdegnowas a defining trait affecting stance and gesture as well as words, functioning as a physical and verbal counter-force to the aggression of her many suitors. As source material, this paper looks at Italianate wit-fencers in two collections by actors of materials for performance. The first is Isabella Andreini’s Fragmenti,stage dialogues that commemorate a variety of verbal duels with stage lovers, including her stinging replies alla stoccata. The second is Domenico Bruni’s manuscript collection Dialoghi, featuring bawdy rapidfire exchanges of insults and come-ons with leading actresses of the comici with whom he played.
Shakespeare’s Cymbelineattempts to ‘straighten out’ the queerness of romance to construct an emblem of Briton victorious: the crown princes Guiderius and Arviragus, swords heroically drawn, defending Britain from the entire Roman army. This image replaces fallible emblems of masculinity, notably the braggadocio Cloten impotently waving his sword while threatening to rape Innogen and the foreign Iachimo entering Innogen’s bedchamber in the pose of the rapist Tarquin (2.2) only to be later ‘revengingly enfeebl[ed]’ by the British air (5.2.4), unable to defeat Posthumous in battle. The play’s fantasy of Britain also rejects familiar icons of martial femininity including Spenser’s Britomart and Queen Boudicea, leaving only the duplicitous Queen and the Lucrece-like Innogen, whom the play imagines as a ‘scabbard’ for Posthumous’s phallus-like sword. Analyzing these emblems, together with related visual imagery, Dr. Julian’s paper outlines some of the obstacles contemporary productions encounter in returning queer gender play to Cymbeline.
This paper uses explicit and implicit stage directions, together with evidence of women’s masquing traditions, to explore how gender on the early modern stage was conveyed not only through costume but also movement, particularly footwork. Period etiquette dictated that the female gait should be graceful, with even and moderate steps — an assumption informing Portia’s transformation into Balthasar in The Merchant of Venice, for example, which requires that she “turn two mincing steps / Into a manly stride” (3.4.67-68). The scope of “female” footwork on England’s “all-male” professional stage was enlarged by cross-dressed roles like Portia’s, this paper argues, but also by the nimbleness and visibility of elite women’s dancing feet in court masques by Queen Anna of Denmark.
This paper contextualises cross-dressed duelling in The Roaring Girlagainst performing women’s ‘feats of activity’. English and continental women performed tumbling, acrobatics and rope-dancing: Italian commedia troupes often included female tumblers; Sisley Peadle led an eponymous English acrobatic troupe (1620-30s); a Bristol playbill advertises girls rope-dancing on the playhouse stage. Further primary materials include Scala’s scenarios of the innamoratafighting with bastone or sword, and Cavendish’s letter describing a cross-dressed commedia actress who ‘had been more used to Handle a Sword than a Distaff’. These alternative traditions add a new dimension of feminine physical forcefulness and agility to studies of early modern bodily stage decorum. The paper uses these primary to explore Moll’s emasculation of Laxton as potentially more than the appropriation of masculine traits.
This paper explores casting, the performance of gender, and the shape of an actor’s career through the prism of The Maid’s Tragedy. According to the Restoration theatre historian James Wright, Amintor was played in the Caroline period by Stephen Hammerton, ‘who was at first a most noted and beautiful woman actor, but afterwards he acted with equal grace and applause a young lover’s part’. Cast-lists and epilogues by Shirley, Suckling, and Killigrew similarly allow us to trace Hammerton’s movement from female to male gender performance. Drawing on these materials and the famous wood-cut illustration of The Maid’s Tragedy, the paper explores the impact of changing casting practices on the play. Inclusive casting may offer similar opportunities for actors to move between roles and genders, but it also has the potential to reverse, interrupt and queer the hierarchical and teleological structures of the early modern theatre industry.
This essay examines swordplay scenes in Ana Caro’s Valor, agravio, y mujer(Courage, Outrage and Woman)andFelix Lope de Vega’s La pobreza estimada(Poverty Revered, c. 1597-1603) to demonstrate how both male and female actors had to build their physical skills even when they played characters considered inept in fencing. In order to ensure proper use of the sword and the safety of all actors involved in the scene, the players’ moves had to be carefully choreographed, whether their characters were skilled in swordplay or not. Relatedly, late 16th and early 17th century Spanish treatises on acting coached the actor on the importance of somatic awareness to develop internal and external performance techniques.
The memoir The Lieutenant Nun(La Monja Alférez) tells the story of Catalina de Erauso escaping a nunnery, cutting her hair, dressing as a man, and setting sail as a conquistador. After 17 years of gambling and brawling her way through the wars with Amerindians in Chile and Peru, Erauso returned to Spain as a Lieutenant and received from the king not only a pension but also permission to remain cross-dressed. This paper will examine Catalina’s depictions of “nature” in the memoir and Peréz de Montalbán’s similarly titled play in light of 17th century conceptions of natural law. Catalina’s cross-dressing, it argues, echoes European concepts of the relationship between gender and natural law as well as the “nature” of Amerindians.
In early modern pastorals, female characters — and the actresses who incarnated them in continental theaters — often played with masculine forms of embodiment before unveiling their “true” identities. Isaac Benserade’s 1634 Iphis et Iante, by contrast, concludes with the cross-dressed shepherdess Iphis’s transformation into a boy and questions the relationship between the essential self and its material form. Was Iphis always, essentially, girl or boy, genderless or gender-fluid? Renowned director Jean-Pierre Vincent’s 2013 production cast a female actress as Iphis; celebrated as an endorsement of “marriage for all,” the play spoke to contemporary issues of gender and sexuality. Yet Vincent’s casting choices also simplified the text’s ambiguities. How might different stagings produce different interpretations of the play’s approach to gender identity?